How do you take the plunge into digital media with a startup website without leaving the comfort of your longtime employer? Peter King is about to find out.
The respected NFL reporter for Sports Illustrated on Monday will launch The MMQB (themmqb.com), a site that expands upon King’s popular Monday Morning Quarterback column for SI.
The MMQB will have its own web address, but still be part of the SI and Time Inc. brand. King is the columnist in chief and overseer, similar to the arrangement that Bill Simmons has with ESPN for his site Grantland.
Unlike Grantland, MMQB won’t have movie reviews or pop culture essays. King’s site will be all football, all the time.
“The goal is to try to get us as close as we can to the game,” King told The News in a phone interview last week. “Because we’re all just trying to be able to understand the game a little bit better and to be able to get inside the game a little bit more.”
King, who will still write his weekly column, among other duties, has a staff of three reporters working for the venture, and all are newcomers to Sports Illustrated — Greg Bedard, Robert Klemko and Jenny Vrentas.
Richard Deitsch, the SI media reporter who graduated from the University at Buffalo, also will contribute pieces to The MMQB, as will SI senior writers Don Banks and Jim Trotter. King says that current and former NFL players will also get chances to tell their stories first-hand.
“We don’t want to just rely on sportswriters to do it,” he said, “but to get some people in the game to take us a little more inside the game — to talk about what it’s really like.”
The idea for developing MMQB into a website came about when King’s last Sports Illustrated contract expired after the 2012 football season.
“I have been there for 24 years, 24 football seasons,” he said. “I just thought, who knows how much longer I have to go. I’m 56 years old but I thought there’s something else that might be fun to do.”
SI agreed and gave King a contract extension along with the go-ahead for The MMQB.
“I thought it would be a good idea if we could kind of meld good storytelling, some video work that we’re going to have on the site, and a lot of stuff with social media,” he said.
In an age when it sometimes seems like Twitter has reduced all our attention spans to about 140 characters, it’s nice to see a media company investing in storytelling.
King said he is particularly proud of a story the site will publish this week about Austen Lane, a third-year defensive end who was waived by the Jacksonville Jaguars in June. Lane tells in the piece what it’s like to get cut by your NFL employer.
“Our story with Austen Lane is probably 2,800 words long,” King said. “I would defy anybody who loves football, or even has a casual interest in football, or has some interest in the human condition - I defy you to read that story and say it wasn’t compelling.”
King has spent several months preparing for the launch of The MMQB. He said being a boss, rather than just a writer, has been interesting.
“I like it,” he said. “I have confidence in myself that I can help people and I can maybe direct them to write. I’m not a writing czar by any stretch of the imagination, but I think I have good ideas and I think I can help young people. … I’m still probably going to write as much as I ever have. I’m not going to go away in that regard, but this part is going to be fun.”
King on Friday departed on his annual tour of NFL training camps, which he said will include seeing the Bills at St. John Fisher College.
“It’s always my favorite time of the year because you get to see people and teams a little bit unfiltered,” he said. “You can sit down and have a half-hour cup of coffee with them or a sandwich. … You get some quality time with people before the games start.”
How will King handle making all his usual NFL rounds while getting a new website off the ground?
“I’ve got a great staff with me and a great staff inside the building at Sports Illustrated,” he said. “They’re going to do an awful lot of the nuts and bolts that is required to produce stuff that occupies a website. So my life is not going to change significantly.
“Look, every season I work hard and I don’t take as much time off as I should, but hey, it’s a fun job. I’m getting paid to cover games for a living.”
King knows there is plenty of competition for football fans’ attention on the web. ProFootballTalk.com, ESPN.com and Grantland, NFL.com, to name just a few. King says he isn’t worried.
“I sort of subscribe to the theory that, I would be surprised if people were going to spend less time on ProFootballTalk and SI’s football coverage or ESPN’s coverage” when they start reading The MMQB. “I think that they might spend less time watching ‘America’s Got Talent’ or watching a Seinfeld rerun.
“I don’t think if you spend 25 minutes a day on The MMQB that you’re not going to spend the same amount of time that you were spending on ProFootballTalk. They are two different things.
“They’re going to be a hard-news site. We’re going to do interpretive storytelling. We’re going to have some news on there, sure, but we’re not going to be covering the Aaron Hernandez trial hour to hour. I think there’s room for everybody.”